Most area lawmakers remained outright opposed or skeptical to expanding Medicaid after a compromise plan was announced this week by the state’s Democratic governor and a top Republican lawmaker.

The plan from Gov. Laura Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning would give Kelly the straightforward expansion of state health coverage that she has advocated, covering as many as 150,000 additional people.

But Denning would get a version of a program that he has proposed for driving down private health insurance premiums to make it less likely people would drop existing private plans for Medicaid.

The CourierTraveler reported on Friday that State Sen. Larry Alley, R-Winfield, a firm opponent of expansion, had several questions about the proposal, and that Rep. Bill Rhiley, R-Wellington, opposes it. 

Sen. Bruce Givens, R-El Dorado, is in favor and said he plans to co-sponsor the bill.

Two more area lawmakers provided comment this week about the expansion compromise. Neither endorsed it.

Rep. Cheryl Helmer, R-Mulvane, said she was disappointed in the proposal. She said she opposes a tobacco tax to help fund the costs, although that idea has been dropped, according to the Associated Press. 

Helmer also said that her district, which includes Winfield and Oxford, has a large number of seniors, farmers, ranchers, and “hard working people” who shouldn’t have to face higher tax bills to pay for adults unwilling to work. 

“These people will have no premium, no deductible, just free insurance and not have to work for it,” Helmer said. 

The proposal does not call for higher taxes, according to the AP article. And it would allow the state to charge new Medicaid participants a premium of up to $25 per individual and $100 per family. 

It also would ask hospitals to kick in $35 million a year to cover the state’s costs.

Expansion advocates say it will help people already working but unable to afford insurance. Under the current state law, non-disabled adults without children don’t qualify, and adults with children must have incomes well below the federally set poverty level to be eligible for coverage.

Expansion allows Medicaid coverage for adults earning 138 percent of the poverty level, which is $17,236 for an individual or $35,535 for a family of four.

Rep. Doug Blex, R-Independence, said he likes the monthly premium idea but sounded skeptical about voting for the compromise. 

He would like to see a work or school requirement, and added that he wants to solve other issues, such as reducing debt and getting roads in better shape, before expanding a new program.

“Once we give people an entitlement, it became near impossible to take away,” Blex said.

Helmer argued that expansion will not help the state’s critical care hospitals, which include William Newton in Winfield, because most of the benefit would go to bigger hospitals. 

The Kansas Hospital Associations is a strong advocate for expansion. Both William Newton and the South Central Kansas Medical Center in Arkansas City have said they support it.

SCKMC estimates $1.3 million additional revenue a year under expansion.

“As a rural hospital, SCKMC is hopeful that the compromised plan … will indeed pass,” SCKMC CEO Jeff Bowman said. “It is nice to see our political leaders working together to do what is best for the citizens of Kansas with the expanded healthcare coverage.”

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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